(This is the fourth part in a series. Click the links to read the rest of the series: One – Going Back to the Beginning, Two – Stuck Between Two Horses, Three – The Wrong God, Five – Of Simmering, Resting, and Labels, Six – He Is Not a Tame Lion, and Seven – Letters to the Wounded from the Wounded)
I picked up a C.S. Lewis book about a month ago. My husband and I had watched a conference session on the life and works of C.S. Lewis, and the speaker had some disparaging remarks about some of what Lewis wrote in “Mere Christianity.” (If you click the “conference session” link and read for yourself, you’ll see those loud and clear from second paragraph.) Being the curious rebel that I am, that totally piqued my interest.
I’ve finished the book and restarted it. (Some books are like that, you know? You read it through the first time, getting either lots of details or only the big picture and know you have to go back through it to get the rest into your head. Or maybe it’s just me.)
Anyway, I spotted the issues raised in the conference. But those were topics pretty far removed from where I’ve been wandering.
The concept of the book is this:
He [Lewis] devoted his whole Christian life to defending and adorning what he called “mere Christianity”—“the Christian religion as understood ubique et ab omnibus [everywhere by everyone].” 8 “I have believed myself to be restating ancient and orthodox doctrines. . . . I have tried to assume nothing that is not professed by all baptized and communicating Christians.” 9 This means that he rarely tried to distance himself from Roman Catholicism or any other part of Christendom. He rarely spoke about any debates within Christianity itself. 10
That’s exactly what I needed: to examine the core of Christianity, far from the theological debates, in search of the thinking that leads a person through acknowledgment of a Creator, a Divine Being, to a God who authored the Bible so that we can learn where we stand and how to improve that standing before God.
I’ve been missing that logical progression in the past, assuming that it was there and making a great leap from “God exists” to “God is Yahweh, wrote the Bible, and has very specific directions for us that eliminate all other religions from being true.” As I’ve written about before, in the last couple years making that leap was no longer acceptable.
In fact, I found so many holes and inconsistencies in the belief system I had patched together over the years that I finally tossed out everything I’d believed to be true and started over. I’ve been carefully, thoughtfully reassembling it from the ground up for the past two years. I started with “Is there a God?” and worked my way from there (click the links at the top of this post to read about those steps). I needed to prove to myself that believing in the God of the Bible isn’t, in fact, a leap at all. …that what the Bible teaches is true and speaks to life today, not just 5,000 years ago.
“Mere Christianity” does exactly this. Lewis starts at the beginning – is there a God? If yes, what does that mean? Where do we go from there? What does it mean for me that there is real God who has standards of right and wrong?
I thank God for C.S. Lewis. His thinking and writing so clearly unmuddied the water for me, exposing the stepping stones to a faith founded on something other than feelings and leaps.
I’m not going to try to summarize the book for two reasons.
1) I couldn’t possibly do C.S. Lewis justice – he is an incredible writer and thinker (and I am not).
2) I really think that if you’re looking for the same stepping stones I was, you need to read it for yourself. If you can’t find the book in your library and can’t afford to buy one, let me know. I’ll send you a copy. Serious.
Finding and following those stepping stones leads to a major crossroads, I discovered. If all of this really is true, how will I respond?
Will I acknowledge, submit, and walk forward, or will I shake my fist and turn aside?
A good friend pointed out, “You believed as a child before, with the understanding you had at the time. Now God is asking you, ‘Will you trust Me now?’ Now you know all that this requires, all that you must let go of, all that God asks of you. And that’s something only you can decide.”
And suddenly, I realized something. In all of the questioning and doubting (and possibly even before), I had begun to allow myself to start pulling parts of my life out of God’s control and into my own. (I recognize that this isn’t really possible if I truly believe that God is God — you can’t take control from God. But we can rebel against God’s control and against God’s standard, and that’s what I mean.)
This crossroads forces me to face that fact. If I accept Yahweh as the True God and the Bible as God’s Word, that has massive ramifications. God requires that I give all that control back: the autonomy, desires and plans, loved ones, time.
For a Type A, multi-tasking, driven person like myself, that is HARD. Ok, it’s probably hard for anyone. But it’s particularly hard for this particular control-freak.
I’ve been reading through the gospel of John. One night not too long ago, as I stood in the middle of crossroads wrestling with my autonomous self, I reached the end the book.
Then I opened a little booklet my friend had given me called “Two Ways to Live” (click here to see an online version) and saw myself trying to sit in God’s throne with God’s crown on my head. It was time – the moment to decide which way I was going to go.
Because I believe the message of the Bible is true, I had to surrender that crown and get off the throne. So I prayed and one by one gave all those things I’d taken for myself back to God. I asked God to forgive me for the arrogance of thinking that I could possibly rule myself, putting myself in the position and place of God. I asked for help to believe, to trust when it is impossible to understand, to understand where it’s possible to understand, to follow instead of lead.
This doesn’t mean that now I check my brain at the door and stop thinking or asking questions, try to pour myself into some other person’s mold, or never enjoy anything again … all those ugly “religious” stereotypes that I flatly reject. It also doesn’t mean everything suddenly makes sense. God is far too great and mysterious for that
What it does mean is just the opposite. God doesn’t mass-produce, stamping out billions of identical people who move in lock-step. God made each of us unique, so none of us fits into anyone else’s mold. God uses each of us in different ways. This means that reality is not simple and clean and tidy. God is profoundly more complex and deep than that, and God appears to like things messy.
But that’s good. I take comfort in the fact that God made each of us different, and that, with God’s help, being the “me” that God wants me to be, I can delight God. And I can delight in the differences in the people around me instead of resenting them and trying to make them all like me.
Thinkers please God when they think. Laughers delight God when they laugh. Singers glorify God when they sing. Cleaners bring God joy when they clean.
And Joy pleases God when she is what God made her to be.